Saturday, 1 July 2017

An honest chat about smear tests

I wanted to make sure that we kept this as casual as poss, because the subject I wanna talk about is something that we should think of as way more casual than we tend to, really. And that magical subject is the joy of any woman’s life - the smear test. Hooraaaay cervixes.

I did a video on my channel about a year and a half ago now which went pretty in depth about my first ever smear test, and it was basically one big celebration about how you should totally go and get it done because it’s totally fine and science is awesome. It’s actually one of the most viewed videos on my channel now which is pretty cool.

But I get comments and questions on that video literally every single day about smear tests, what it’s like, if it hurts and all that jazz. So I thought it’d be a good topic to revisit a little bit, have another little chat about and get some of the most frequent questions answered. I put a tweet, Instagram story and a snapchat out to see if you guys had any burning questions (actually, I s'pose burning isn’t a great word to use when it comes to anything vagina related), and there was LOADS of them.

What is a smear test? 

So in a nutshell, a smear test or a cervical screening if you’re gonna be really fancy, is an appointment with your GP or nurse that girls aged 25 (I’m talking in the UK here) are advised to attend. It’s not compulsory, but you should absolutely attend - I’ll get to that a bit later. It’s literally just a doctor or a nurse taking a few cells from inside your cervix, which then get sent off for testing. That’s all, wahey.

Does it hurt? 

I think this is the question that I get asked the most which has kind of made me realise that so many girls must put off going to their smear test because they think it’s gonna be painful. Obviously, it’s a tricky one to answer because everybody’s body is different, everybody’s vagina is different, everybody’s pain thresholds are different. But speaking for myself, mine absolutely didn’t hurt and I would never describe it as ‘painful’.

1 out of 3 girls who should have had a smear test by now, haven’t gone. Obviously that could be down to loads of different reasons - it could literally just be forgetfulness or a super busy lifestyle or even just laziness - but to be honest I think SO many of them will just be girls who are literally scared to go and get it done. Which kind of sucks, because it’s an amazing free service that genuinely saves lives (no exaggeration), but it has this reputation of being physically painful, as well as painfully awkward, and honestly it’s neither of those things. I promise.

The thing is like, having that good old speculum eased in and opened up (very gently btw) is never going to a joyful experience that you wanna do on the daily, but your vagina is designed to literally push out a human being. This kinda thing won’t even make it break a sweat. On the whole, I’d say it’s uncomfortable, but completely bearable and just kind of a weird sensation. But no, not painful - and if it does start to hurt more than you think is normal you can tell the nurse and she can change the size of all the gear that she’s using to suit you better.

How do you get over the awkwardness? Is it actually awkward? 

This is the second most common question that I get asked about the whole smear test experience. Kinda makes it sound like a fun, interactive theme park or something. Worst theme park ever.

It’s a pretty funny question, but it’s also totally reasonable because if you’re not really in the habit of lying down on a table, opening your legs and flashing your bits and pieces at a stranger then it IS always gonna feel like a weird and awkward thing to have to do. But sorry to be the one to break this to you, but your vagina and your cervix are absolutely nothing special to this doctor or nurse that’s gonna do your examination. They’ve probably already done 10 that day, and they’ll be doing another 20 after you put your knickers back on. I guarantee that once you walk into the room, when you’re in a sterile environment and the nurse is chatting to you about the process and talking about speculums and swabs, it will instantly just feel like a doctor procedure, and won’t be anywhere near as awkward as you’re imagining.

The only sliiightly awkward part is when you have to sort of, drop your undies and your jeans and waddle over to the table with your fanny and your naked bum out in the air, but the nurse won’t be looking while you do that, and you’ll be given a big paper tablecloth or cover to put over yourself once you’re lying down. My top tip is that if you wear a skirt or a dress for your appointment, you can just ditch your knickers, and feel less self conscious, and it’ll still feel like you’re wearing kind of a normal amount of clothing while this is all going on.

I think a lot of these like weird, completely un-fun experiences that you unfortunately have to do when you’re officially an adult are just about completely blagging your way through it. So I think I walked in to mine completely pretending to be un-phased and un-embarassed by the whole thing and you almost trick yourself into believing that you don’t wanna die on the spot. Fake it 'til you make it and all that.

Do I need to shave? Did you feel pressure to make it look nice? 

Right, just gonna throw this out there. The doctor or nurse absolutely does not give a shit about your pubes. They will have seen weirder, wilder things going on down there than you’ve got, and genuinely won’t bat an eyelid whether you’re as bald as a Mitchell brother or completely au naturale. He or she isn’t actually looking at what’s going on on top of your cervix, they’re looking actually inside - straight down the barrel of the gun if you will.

Literally the only thing I would say is have a shower the morning before you go, that’s just common human decency really isn’t it - but also remember that vaginas are amazing self cleaning machines all by themselves. Similarly, it absolutely doesn’t matter what undies you’re wearing either. Your nurse never even sees your knickers, so don’t stress about what you wear. The only reason you might wanna wear a particular pair is that you could bleed a little bit afterwards, but that’s just so you dont ruin your best undies.

Where do you put your pants? 

This one made me laugh. Basically, once the nurse has talked you through what will happen and what the point of it is and all that jazz, he or she will ask you to undress your lower half behind a curtain and you can just put your undies and clothes on a chair, before they get into position to perform the test. The whole routine is to protect your modesty and make things less embarrassing I guess, but then that’s pretty ridiculous considering you’re about to go vagina to face, but anyway.

Thoughts on having a smear test as a virgin? 

To be honest, I’ve never really thought about this idea too much, but I think it’s a really good question so definitely wanted to mention it. I had a quick look on the NHS and they basically say that if you’re not sexually active, you don’t need to worry too much because you’re way less likely to develop cervical cancer.

But the person who sent this question in said they’d had a really awkward encounter with a nurse - so I think it’s great that they were still keen to have the test done anyway. Obviously it’s a completely personal decision, but if you’re putting your health as the very top priority, and you’re completely comfortable with having the examination done, and maybe experiencing a liiiittle bit more pain than a sexually active girl might do, then that’s got to be a really good decision if you ask me.

How do you control your nerves? 

This was also a really common question, and I think the most useful thing you can do is just remind yourself how incredibly important a smear test is for your own health and your own future. 3000 women every year in the UK get cervical cancer - but these smear tests or cervical screenings prevent 75% of cases of it. Literally amazing.

As I said before, keep reminding yourself that it could literally save your life, remind yourself that the doctors and nurses will be doing the procedure multiple times that day, remind yourself that you’re in it alongside thousands of other women every single year having this done (including me wahey), and watch my smear test videos before you go because I’ll make everything better. The more relaxed you are, the easier the whole thing will be.

Is it uncomfortable having a male doctor? 

I had a female nurse for my smear test, but if the idea of having a guy do it all freaks you out a bit, then you can actually request a woman if that makes you feel more comfortable. If you do have a guy though, remember that he’s done it a million times before, there’s absolutely NOTHING remotely sexy about the whole thing, speculums will instantly remove any form of awkward boy/girlness.

Do you think the age should be lower? 

Oh 100%. I only really know UK stats to be honest, but the smear test age here is 25 which is a lot higher than many places across the world. It’s a pretty hot topic of conversation right now that our public services are facing a huge defecit in funds, massively underfunded and understaffed so I know the realities and possibilities mustn’t add up to the ideals. But I’d absolutely love to see the age lowered, I don’t know how that could ever be a bad thing.

What if you come on your period the day before? 

For this kind of thing that’s actual guidelines of the smear test, I’d say do a little bit of research before booking your appointment to make sure I haven’t got this all wrong, but I’m pretty sure they advise that you don’t book your test for when you’ll be on your period. I think they say to try and get it for the middle of your cycle, because that’s when you get the best cell sample. I imagine they’d probably tell you to rebook your appointment if you came on just before it which would be a massive pain in the arse if you’d psyched yourself up for it, so maybe check with your GP practice or online.

Is there anything you can compare it to? 

Honestly, Ive thought ages about this question to try and come up with a really helpful, illustrative answer that could give you a vague idea, but I haven’t really experienced anything that I could really compare it to. The sensation is kind of similar to period pain - not for the pain aspect but for that lower stomach, deep, almost warm kind of feeling. I guess maybe it could feel vaguely similar to having sex but obviously, quite significantly less good. Err, if you’ve ever had a coil fitted for contraception I guess the positioning and experience might be similar, but in terms of the sensation of the speculum widening things up a little bit, and the silicone brush collecting the cell sample, it’s just quite hard to explain to be honest. Err yeah, WOULD RECOMMEND.

How far in do they go? Is it like a tampon? 

Yeah it’s higher up than a tampon or a mooncup would sit, I don’t really know all the facts and figures for how far in they actually go in terms of centimetres or inches, but it’s an examination of your cervix rather than your vagina so it’s all the way up in that bad boy.

I genuinely can’t face it - I’m too scared and don’t know what to do. 

It just shouldn’t even be something where you weigh up the option of going to have it done or not - it should just be a given that you’re going. It’s not even worth worrying about - it’s not scary, it’s not painful, it’s not awkward, there’s no personality or emotion involved in it - it’s literally just fine, the same as going to get your blood pressure checked or your throat examined when you’ve got tonsillitis. DO IT.

👻 SNAPCHAT: lucyjanewood 

1 comment:

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